3 biggest questions facing Cavs entering 2023-24 NBA training camp
The Cleveland Cavaliers had plenty of burning questions heading into last year’s training camp.
The Cavs had to determine if guards Donovan Mitchell and Darius Garland could co-exist in the backcourt. They had to find their answer at the small forward after an assortment of forwards made their case to potentially take the starting spot. The trade for Mitchell was the last big move made by the Cavs before the 2022-23 season started. The Cavaliers would sign guard Danny Green, waive forward Kevin Love and sign guard Sam Merrill as the season went along.
Cleveland chose to stand pat during what would be a chaotic trade deadline that saw forward Kevin Durant shipped off to the Phoenix Suns and guard Kyrie Irving sent to the Dallas Mavericks.
“I think you guys know me well enough to know I scoured the market and talked to every team I could,” Cavs President of Basketball Operations Koby Altman said in February, via The Athletic. “We could have made a move that was lateral, multiple moves that were lateral, that I didn’t think appreciably made us better.
“I really wanted to see what this group looked like together, fully healthy, that we’ve seen in the last week, week and a half, and the potential of this group, which we’ve seen right in front of our eyes, continue to grow.”
After a hopeful run in the regular season ended with a first-round loss to the New York Knicks in the postseason, Cleveland will have plenty of new questions to answer before the start of what could be a defining year for the Cavaliers. Cleveland lost a few important contributors in forwards Cedi Osman and Lamar Stevens in the trade for Miami Heat forward Max Strus, but worked to add extra shooting and rebounding help with a handful of additional signings.
What are some of the biggest questions the Cavs will face when the NBA’s training camps open on Oct. 3?
How far will this Cavs offense go during the 2023-24 season?
Cleveland finished with an offensive rating, or “a team’s points scored per 100 possessions,” of 115.5 during the regular season, according to NBA.com. The figure put them on par with the Atlanta Hawks and at about eighth place in the league. Mitchell and Garland proved to be essential parts of Cleveland’s offense, averaging a combined 49.9 points and 12.2 assists per contest during the regular season. Mitchell scored 40 points or more 13 times during the 2022-23 season, including in the 71-point outing he earned against a division rival in the Chicago Bulls in January.
“It’s really important having a guy his caliber come in and try to help this team get over the hump, make the next push,” Garland said in April, via Akron Beacon Journal sports writer Nate Ulrich. “It means a lot to all of us.
“It’s super cool just to have another guy like him, to be honest with you. So I take pride in it, just trying to make him feel comfortable coming to a new situation like this, something totally different than Utah.”
Cleveland will have to count on the further growth of Garland and forward Evan Mobley, along with the signings of a few shooting options in the offseason, to truly become a more dynamic offense as the Cavs move through their 2023-24 schedule.
“I don’t want to give away too much. But the spacing on the floor becomes different,” Cavs head coach J.B. Bickerstaff said when asked how the signings of Max Strus and Georges Niang can alter the team’s playing style, via Cleveland.com Cavs reporter Chris Fedor. “The attention that goes to those two guys because of Georges’ career 40% 3-point shooting and Max Strus’ ability to make shots off the move, defenses have to make different decisions now than they had to last year.
“Those are different dynamics that we added. Our offense can improve and be more dynamic and difficult to guard — even though we were a top 10 offense in the regular season. You learn from the playoffs about how to become more difficult to guard in that setting. I think there is a more dynamic nature that we can have offensively. Those are things I’m studying now and we will implement this coming season.”
Can Damian Jones and Tristan Thompson provide enough help at the five?
Will Cleveland create a reliable rotation at the five behind center Jarrett Allen next season?
The Cavs brought in Jones and Thompson during the offseason to bolster the team’s depth at the center spot. Allen and Robin Lopez were the team’s only true center options during the 2022-23 season. Lopez, a 15-year NBA veteran for nine different teams, averaged 8.1 minutes per game during the 37 games he played in last year. He logged a total of just over six minutes during the team’s five-game playoff series against the Knicks. Mobley played in 44% of his regular season minutes at the five. Forward Mamadi Diakite spent 83% of his limited minutes in the 2022-23 season at the center spot.
Thompson played in six games for the Los Angeles Lakers during the 2022-23 NBA playoffs. He averaged 1.8 points and 1.7 rebounds per game. Jones averaged 11.6 minutes per game during the 41 games he split between the Lakers and the Utah Jazz, earning averages of 3.5 points and three rebounds per game.
Have the Cavs found their answer at small forward?
Do the Cavs finally have a solidified starting option at the small forward?
Whether it be Stevens, guard Caris LeVert or forward Isaac Okoro, Cleveland had a few options to experiment with at the three as last year’s schedule went along. The Cavs had a total of 22 different starting lineups during the 2022-23 regular season, according to Basketball Reference. Cleveland used a starting lineup featuring Okoro with the Cavs big four in 29 games. Stevens, now a member of the Boston Celtics, started with the team’s big four in 10 games. LeVert started in three games for Cleveland during its NBA Playoff series.
Strus, a former two-way player for the Bulls and a standout for the DePaul Blue Demons, played and started in 23 games for the Heat during the 2023 NBA playoffs. 57% of his regular season minutes last year were spent at the small forward. He played a key role for Miami as they made their run for the NBA Finals last postseason.
“He’s gotten so much better from the time we started this year,” Heat forward P.J. Tucker said in May, via The Associated Press Sports Writer Tim Reynolds. “He’s definitely our most improved.
“He’s really stepped up to be a guy that we count on, not only to make shots but to be aggressive. … Even if he didn’t believe it in himself, we believed in him.”
The Cavs will still have a few options to work with at the three going into next season. If they haven’t already, Cleveland must find its answer at the small forward to make an extended run in the 2024 NBA playoffs and beyond.
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Author: Alex Sabri